Understanding the nuances of Cognac, one doesn’t need to be Einstein, but imagination is important…
The blending of Cognac is often said to be equivalent to the creation of a work of art. This being so, we asked François Le Grelle, Managing Director of Cognac Hine what role the education of buyers plays in his marketing…
It depends on which market you’re talking about! The concept of blending is at the heart of any Cognac, which explains why you find very few specific vintages as opposed to, say, whisky. There are however, a rare few brands that do vintages, and Hine is one of them. What is important in the blend is the selection of wines and the process of distillation. If a wine is not good, there is no way the distillation will be able to improve its quality. The wine must be excellent and the distillation excellent, in order to create and excellent eau de vie. In this respect at Hine, we pay great attention to our raw materials to be sure that the quality we obtain will enable belnds that will be seductive and harmonious? The blend will then evolve over time. The ageing relates to the time it is left in the cask, and this has to be controlled, because we do not want too much wood.
We keep our young eaux de vie – just blended – in our new caskis for a period of nine months, in such a way as to avoid a predominance of wood on the eaux de vie, keeping in mind the fact that our eaux de vie come almost exclusively from Grand and Petite Champagne giving fruity, fresh, floral notes, instilling a certain delicacy that we want to preserve. Consequently, we need to diminish the impact that the wood might otherwise have, so that this floral, fruity expression remains over time. In the end , you will have eaux de vie that are light in colour, because the wood will not have given so much impact , as can be the case in other Cognacs. We will have something that is much lighter in colour, which can occasionally be problematic, because in some countries, buyers still sometimes believe, that the darker it is the better it is, and this is indeed where education is required.
On the other hand we find connoisseurs in the mature markets, in Europe , and particularly the UK. In all the ex-Soviet countries there is also an excellent knowledge of these products that could be described as fine and complete. The vulgarisation of these processes is important in other markets to explain to people why we are different, and why each Cognac is unique and individual. In that sense we can’t say one Cognac is better than the other.
Do the English roots of the house change something?
Yes indeed. The house of Hine has always sought to be exceptional and has never sought to go for volume. One of our particularities has been that the UK market has always been very important for us. Barrels were delivered directly to England and bottling took place at a much later date in situ. The storage conditions are very different in London – much cooler and damper, and this has a marked effect on the barrel, and consequently on the eau de vie. It thus in a sense became an “English Cognac” as it was aged in London. The flavour is quite different. We still age some barrels in England as the technique is at the heart of our brand.
In 2015 Cognac Hine has launched Domaine Bonneuil 2005, a single estate , single harvest Cognac, which is something truly unique in a milieu where blending is prevalent.